Jokic scores 38 points, Nuggets beat Blazers 128-109 to tie series




DENVER (AP) – Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets played with an unspoken sense of urgency.

“Because if you talk about it, you’re not going to do it,” reasoned the big man.

Portland Trail Blazers goalie Damian Lillard (0) peeks over his shoulder as he shoots Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) in the first quarter of Game 2 of a playoff series first-round NBA basketball tournament Monday, May 24, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo / Joe Mahoney)

So no talk, just a much more physical mentality.

Jokic scored 38 points to overcome a 3-point shootout from Damian Lillard and the Nuggets tied the first-round series by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 128-109 on Monday night in Game 2.

“They picked up the aggressiveness and we did too,” Jokic said. “We encountered their aggressiveness, maybe even a little higher.”

Jokic also had eight rebounds and five assists, four more than what he handed out in Game 1 when the Blazers made sure the big man didn’t beat him with his precise passes.

The third-seeded Nuggets had little response for Lillard early on as the dynamic playmaker scored 32 of his 42 points in the first half. His eight three points before intermission equaled an NBA playoff record for most in a half. Lillard finished 9 of 16 in a 3-point range.

A change of plan at half-time helped slow Lillard down. Denver put 6-foot-9 Aaron Gordon on guard 6-2.


Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone, center, and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) chat with referee John Goble (30) during a timeout in the first quarter of Game 2 of a series NBA first-round basketball playoff against the Portland Trail Blazers, Monday, May 24, 2021, in Denver.  (AP Photo / Joe Mahoney)

Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone, center, and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) chat with referee John Goble (30) during a timeout in the first quarter of Game 2 of a series NBA first-round basketball playoff against the Portland Trail Blazers, Monday, May 24, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo / Joe Mahoney)

“I looked at the coaching staff and said, ‘I got it,’ said Gordon, who was acquired from Orlando in late March. “It could be a point guard or a center – I’m here for anything.”

Lillard is already considering Game 3 in Portland on Thursday and what he will do to counter Gordon’s defensive tenacity.

“You just have to move further off the ball to get more sets off the ball,” said Lillard. “Things like that, you can usually have a little bit of space.”

It was a physical affair, with four technical fouls (three on Denver, including one on Jokic) and two blatant-1 calls (CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony).

“It was chippy and that’s how it should be,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I liked it. It’s my kind of game here.

Up 20 points in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Nuggets resisted a mini-rally from Portland before Facundo Campazzo sealed the victory with a 3 points. Monte Morris also had a big block on Lillard.

Michael Porter Jr. found his rhythm and finished with 18 points. He was 3 of 6 at 3 points after running 1 in 10 long distance in the first game.

The generally confident Blazers made 21 turnovers. They were also outscored 54-32 in paint, 16-4 at quick break points and 21-4 at second chance points.

“They’ve outstripped us from top to bottom – other than Dame (42),” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “We have to be more aggressive, there is no doubt.”

While Lillard lit it – and McCollum added 21 – the Nuggets kept Anthony (five points) and Anfernee Simons (three) in check. They hurt the Nuggets coming off the bench in the series opener with a total of 32 points.

The game got physical at the start of the first, with Jusuf Nurkic and Jokic tangling and Jokic falling to the ground. At the next timeout, the teams started chewing near midfield, which led to Porter’s technical team and Portland assistant coach Nate Tibbetts.

Spirits escalated as Anthony pushed Jokic down and drew a blatant foul-1. Just as things started to calm down, Morris picked up a technique right after the halftime horn. Lillard took the free throw to start the second half.

“They just brought energy to the game with that physicality and the deflections and things like that, which was once again expected,” said Lillard. “Obviously, we didn’t allow this to happen on purpose. But this is what is happening.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Nurkic fouled on a charge at 9:58 to play. The Blazers challenged the play to no avail. … Lillard’s eight 3s tied the playoff game for a half held by Vince Carter of Toronto, who hit just as many in the first half against Philadelphia on May 11, 2001. … Lillard had 10 assists.

Nuggets: G / F Will Barton (right hamstring) missed his 15th consecutive game. … G Jamal Murray has once again taken on the enthusiastic cheerleader role on the bench as he recovers from a torn ACL.

NO COMPARISON

The Blazers took a 1-0 lead in the series last season over eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers before losing in five games.

“We’re really not making any comparison to last year,” Stotts said. “Denver is a different team than the Lakers.”


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